Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should stop in Israel during his current trip to the Middle East, after Israeli and Iranian forces clashed over the weekend, a senior Democratic senator urged Monday.
“To omit a stop in Israel after Iran’s escalation last week would be nothing short of diplomatic malpractice and strategic folly,” New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the foreign relations panel, said Monday.
Tillerson is on five-day swing through five Middle Eastern capitals, focusing chiefly on counterterrorism and rallying allies to stabilize areas of Syria and Iraq formerly controlled by the Islamic State. The tour doesn’t include a trip to Israel, though he’ll visit neighboring Jordan to sign an agreement to provide additional aid to the ally, which has been taxed by refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war.
“I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that there’s no Israel stop,” a senior State Department official told reporters on Friday. “These are always very complicated itineraries to pull together. The secretary meets relatively frequently with Israeli officials when they’re in town and stays abreast of the issues. So I wouldn’t reach any conclusions about the fact that there’s no Israel stop on this particular trip.”
Within hours, however, Israel and Iranian forces were engaged in their first direct clash since 1982. An Iranian drone launched from Syria violated Israeli air space, provoking an Israeli airstrike against Iranian and Syrian forces. One F-16 fighter jet was downed by anti-aircraft defenses, though Israeli officials touted the raid as an effective raid on Syrian defenses.
“The evolution of these threats on all borders necessitate immediate, high-level engagement and actions to show our ironclad commitment to our allies,” Menendez said. “A visit from Secretary Tillerson would send a critical signal, while we in Congress will continue to work together, as we always have, to ensure robust funding to support Israel’s security and to support its efforts to confront threats on every border.”
President Trump’s team wants to provide Israel with $3.3 billion in fiscal year 2019, according to a budget proposal unveiled Monday. “[That amount] is a $200 million increase from the previous year,” Hari Sastry, director of the State Department’s Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources, told reporters Monday.